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THE LIFE CYCLE OF TENCEL

Recently, we decided to use Tencel in our new clothing line. We did it because the voices on the internet told us that “Tencel is a sustainable fiber...” and we believed them. We received results from brands, bloggers, journalist, influencers and anyone in-between presenting facts and figures about the sustainability of the fiber. However, what we didn’t see, were sources to facts or figures of any reputable source. So we decided to create this page. The goal was simple - be helpful. Be helpful to anyone that wants dig a little deeper and provide sources to all data, and in many cases original sources. We wanted to discuss the good, the bad and the unknown. Most importantly, we didn’t want to be afraid of showing all the facts. Hopefully we did that.

We created a short and long version. The short is just what you see as you scroll the page. The long version is accessible by clicking on the images and text. The long version is where you will see the full story and links to learn more.

QUICK HISTORY

Rayon: A textile fiber or fabric made from regenerated cellulose.

NMMO SOLUTION

This is where the magic happens. A little science (NMMO) turns the wood pulp into a regenerated cellulose fiber called lyocell. NMMO is the only chemical solvent needed and the compound itself, and effluent are considered to be non-toxic. The best part about the NMMO solution is that 99% of it can be recycled and used again!

SPINNERET

The solution is pushed through small holes and the fiber starts to form on the other side.

ONE LAST SPRAY

It's first treated with a diluted NMMO solution and then demineralized water. This helps strengthen the fiber.

FINISHING TOUCH

The fibers dried and then spun into yarn or thread for final production. They can be spun with other materials as well.

ENZYME TREATMENT

To help with pilling and fuzz, a simple enzyme treatment is used. This gives the end fabric a softer and more peach-skin feel.

WOOD CHIPPING

Once cut, the logs are transported to a wood chipping facility and chopped into small pieces. These pieces are then transported to a pulp facility for further processing. Some pulp facilities will have the wood chipping process done on-site.

PULP PRODUCTION

The wood chips are placed in a solution of water, caustic soda (using mercury free technology) and sodium sulfide. An elemental chlorine free (ECF) or totally chlorine free (TCF) bleaching process is used. Both are considered to have a low environmental impact. One of the biggest environmental concerns with pulp production is the energy demand. Lenzing overcomes this by having their own pulp production facilities that use 100% renewable energy. However, only about 50% of all pulp comes from Lenzing facilities while the other 50% is imported. We would consider pulp production the biggest concern from an environmental standpoint.

WOOD

Most of the wood used in Lenzing’s Tencel production is derived from eucalyptus (South Africa), beech (Europe), pine (USA), birch (Europe) and spruce (Europe) trees. All wood is sourced from FSC or PEFC certified forests/semi-forests/plantations.
Wood is a fantastic renewable resource that Lenzing also uses to fuel their Austria and Czech Republic plants. If sourced correctly, minimal environmental concerns exist. The major concerns would be the effects of groundwater usage and depletion of soil nutrients on natural ecosystems.

TYPES OF RAYON

LYOCELL INPUTS

MAKING OF TENCEL

BIODEGRADABILITY

Keeping this short and simple -  Yes, Tencel is 100% biodegradable/compostable. The image below demonstrates lyocell's biodegradability in surface soil over 16 weeks.

FINAL THOUGHTS

We like to imagine sustainable fashion as being 100% sustainable. However, it never really works like that. When creating and using any piece of fashion in this world, large amounts of energy, water and resources are needed. Honestly, nothing in fashion can truly be 100% sustainable. While that might seem to contradict to the term “sustainable fashion”, we find it as more of a guideline. When we create fashion, we create it with the purpose of being conscious of the environment. We strive to use resources that provide the least amount of harm to the planet and the people living on it. While that has many applications to different brands, consumers and environmentalist, we see it as a great starting point.

While we want to leave the question “Is Tencel Sustainable?” for you to judge... For us at Soluna Collective, Tencel will be part of our fabric mix now and into the future. It will not be the only fabric but it will be a part of our diverse mix!

FUTURE

The future is all about NMMO and the types of cellulose and derivatives that it can be used with. Below is the process for turning cutting room cotton scraps back into usable fiber. The process is called REFIBRA.